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Did Clint Hurdle make the right calls in letting Wade LeBlanc hit?

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Cincinnati Reds v Pittsburgh Pirates Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

The Pirates lost 7-1 to the Reds on Monday night as Tyler Glasnow dug a deep hole right out of the chute.

Glasnow gives up a leadoff single to Billy Hamilton and gets Jose Peraza to fly to center, then walks four straight batters. 2-0 Reds, bases loaded and Glasnow's already thrown 38 pitches. The Pirates' win probability has already dropped below 25%. There has only been one out recorded in the game.

Glasnow manages to get out of the first giving up only one more run. In the Pirates’ half of the first the first two batters reach, but a flyout and two strikeouts leave the runners stranded. (Watch the pattern emerge.)

Glasnow runs into more trouble in the second. After getting an out, he gives up two singles. Joey Votto, who walked in the first, comes to the plate. Glasnow strikes him out on a nasty 0-2 curveball. (Silver lining on Glasnow: Coming into the game, Votto had swung and missed at just two pitches so far this season. Glasnow tied him up with a great fastball on the hands in his first at bat and punched him out with the curve in his second. Unfortunately, there wasn't much else good in between.) The two runners on base steal second and third on the strikeout. Adam Duvall steps to the plate. The Reds' win expectancy is 79%. Duvall lines the first pitch to left for a two-run single, giving the Reds a 5-0 lead and increasing their win expectancy to 89%. After another stolen base, the fourth, and a walk, the fifth, Glasnow's night is done. Wade LeBlanc gets the final out and the Pirates go to the bottom of the second down 5-0.

The Pirates open the second with a walk, single and a walk to load the bases. Their win expectancy jumps back to 25% as Wade LeBlanc's spot in the order comes up.

LeBlanc had thrown four pitches to end the second inning. He was the team's designated long man for this game. The Pirates’ other long reliever, Trevor Williams, had pitched two innings on Sunday and gotten loose on Saturday, so Clint Hurdle deems him unavailable. Felipe Rivero had pitched the three previous days and therefore is also not available, either. That meant that, besides LeBlanc, the Pirates have four available relievers — closer Tony Watson, Daniel Hudson, Juan Nicasio and Antonio Bastardo — to cover 21 outs.

Hurdle will not use Chris Stewart to pinch-hit in the second. That leaves a slightly injured Josh Harrison; John Jaso; Phil Gosselin; and Alen Hanson. Hurdle sticks with LeBlanc in a no-out situation knowing he has the top of the order with Jordy Mercer and Starling Marte after LeBlanc. LeBlanc isn’t an automatic out at the plate. He sports a .250 career batting average and .276 on base percentage coming into the game, although all but one of those plate appearances took place before 2014.

LeBlanc strikes out swinging, dropping the Pirates' WE 6%. Mercer follows with the same result and Marte grounds to short to end the inning, each dropping the WE another 5%. The Pirates go to the top of the third with a 9% win expectancy.

After an error allows the first batter to reach, LeBlanc retires the Reds in order. The Pirates go to the bottom of the third with a 10% WE. Andrew McCutchen and Gregory Polanco both single and David Freese and Francisco Cervelli walk. (That means nine batters have reached base in the first three innings before an out was recorded and the Pirates have one run to show for it.) With the bases loaded, no outs and down 5-1, Josh Bell comes to the plate and Michael Lorenzen replaces starter Brandon Finnegan. The Pirates WE soars to 32%.

Bell hits a shallow pop flyout to center and Polanco stays at third. One out. Adam Frazier dribbles one up the first base line and Polanco is forced out at home. Two outs and the Pirates’ WE is back down to 18%. Hurdle is again confronted with the decision whether or not to bat LeBlanc with 18 outs still to cover with his four-man pen. He again chooses to bat LeBlanc who again strikes out swinging on a 1-2 count. The Pirates’ WE drops to 12% and they don’t put another runner on base. The Reds bullpen retires all 21 batters they face in order.

Did Hurdle make the right decisions?

I can't see an argument for pinch-hitting for LeBlanc in the second inning. Had Glasnow gotten out of the second and the same situation arisen, it's a easy decision. Pinch-hit Harrison for Glasnow, because you aren't burning your long man. But with no outs and 21 more outs needed from the bullpen, giving LeBlanc a shot and passing the burden to the top of the order was the right decision. Fortunately for the Pirates, LeBlanc didn't bounce into a double play. Unfortunately for the Bucs, Mercer and Marte failed to deliver.

The decision as to whether to bat LeBlanc in the third inning isn't very different, but the fact that there were two outs might have increased the urgency. Let's assume LeBlanc's career OBP of .276 overstated his real ability, which is more like .175. The lefty-hitting Jaso was probably the Pirates’ best option off the bench at that point and he increased the chance to reach base by a bit under 20%.

Hurdle also had to assess how much using some combination of the four remaining guys in the bullpen potentially decreased the Pirates’ chances to win games in the upcoming days. With the rescheduled game on Thursday the Pirates were scheduled to play the next nine days before getting another day off. Again, I think Hurdle made the right decision. Had it been the fifth inning, he probably would have played things differently. Had the score been 3-1, maybe he would have played things differently. But being the third, he still had to get 18 more outs, and pulling LeBlanc probably meant the Pirates would have had to shuffle the roster today to get a fresh bullpen arm to the majors.

I think Hurdle made the right decisions, considering all the variables. LeBlanc batted three times and twice struck out with the bases loaded. His outs to some degree made his pitching performance moot. But he did pitch 5.1 innings, providing a big assist to the bullpen and giving Hurdle continued flexibility for the time being.